How To Start A Fish Tank - A Complete Guide For Beginners

How To Start A Fish Tank – A Complete Guide For Beginners

So you have thought to have your very first fish tank! Welcome to this fabulous world of fishkeeping! Your aquarium journey will be exciting.

But few tasks you need to do to start a hassle-free journey. I am here to help you with a complete guide on how to start a fish tank smoothly. Keep reading!

Your Window To A New World

Fishkeeping Your Window To A New World

Having a fish tank at your place can work wonders for opening your window to a new world. Since fish tanks are a constant source of entertainment, I consider them an impressive addition to home and office spaces.

Aquariums give you the golden opportunity to observe fish in their habitat, which is nothing less than witnessing a natural wonder.

If you are new to the world of fishkeeping, starting a fish tank from scratch can pave the way for an exciting and rewarding experience.

It would be best if you conduct thorough research before getting started with your fishkeeping journey.

Benefits Of Having Fish As Pets

Fishkeeping has become one of the most popular leisure activities around the globe. People of all age groups love to keep fish as pets owing to the fun involved in this hobby.

Above all, keeping fish can be pretty helpful, and several scientific studies back this notion. Listed here are the top 5 benefits of having fish as pets.

1. Fish Are Silent

A noisy environment can spoil your mood and lead to a lot of inconveniences. Unlike a majority of other household pets like dogs and cats, fish are silent, and they make no noise.

This makes them desirable pets. Fish is indeed going to be the best choice of pet for you, especially if you live with infants or young children who may be susceptible to loud sounds.

2. Improved Mental Health

Interacting with pet fish can help combat stress and promote relaxation to a great extent. It can also decrease heart rate and blood pressure.

People suffering from Alzheimer’s disease are likely to experience increased appetite and alertness after being constantly exposed to vibrant fish tanks.

The presence of fish in your house can significantly boost your overall well-being.

3. Aquariums Are Aesthetically Appealing 

People globally are becoming increasingly interested in owning fish tanks simply because they are aesthetically appealing.

There is nothing more fun and satisfying than observing the movements of your beloved pet fish.

Given that a fish tank is a feast for the eyes, it will make your space look a lot more attractive in an instant.

4. Fishkeeping Is Affordable

Contrary to popular belief, fishkeeping is an inexpensive hobby that anyone looking to own a pet can pursue.

Even those people who have a small budget can keep fish as pets without spending a fortune.

Although fishkeeping is typically cheap, the costs can go up based on the breed of fish you decide to own.

5. Requires Little Space

Besides being affordable, fish require brief space. Since the cost of living is continuously rising, a large percentage of families are living in small-sized homes nowadays.

Most fish tanks are incredibly compact, and you do not need a spacious room to house them.

Read also: Axolotls Care Guide – How To Care For An Axolotl

Steps To Set Up Your First Fish Tank

If you are looking to start a fish tank and do not know where to start from, you have come to the right place.

I have created this step-by-step guide solely to help you set up your first fish tank facing no difficulty.

To be specific, this one is a freshwater aquarium setting guide.

Given below are the steps you should implement to proceed with fishkeeping.

Steps To Set Up Your First Fish Tank

Step-1: Plan For Your First Aquarium

Planning for your first aquarium is the most vital step. You should choose an aquarium that fits both your room size and budget simultaneously.

Take note freshwater aquariums are easier to maintain compared to their saltwater counterparts.

While a 5-gallon aquarium will serve the purpose, it is better to opt for a 10-gallon fish tank as I deem it ideal for most freshwater fish species.

Step-2: Make Fish Selection

As a beginner, you need to choose sufficiently hardy fish which do not demand any special care.

Stick to peaceful species and avoid picking ferocious fish if you plan to build a community fish tank.

I would advise you to start slow and never jam your tank with plenty of fish.

Step-3: Arrange Accessories

1. Filter

Nowadays, different filtration systems are available in the market. Before you buy an aquarium filter, ensure that its size suits your fish tank.

You should consider getting a 3-stage filter to remove waste materials effectively and keep your fish tank as clean as possible. 

2. Heater

The water temperature of your aquarium directly impacts the metabolism of your fish.

We should avoid low water temperatures at all costs, as they can cause fungal infections in your fish.

The ideal aquarium temperature for most varieties of tropical fish ranges from 74° to 80°F (24° to 27°C).

You should invest in a heater only after you have determined its capacity and power requirements.

For a 10-gallon fish tank, you are going to need a 50-watt heater for optimum performance.

3. Substrate

In simple words, substrate refers to the bed material which is present at the tank’s bottom. It can notably impact the filtration process as well as the water chemistry within your aquarium.

There are various types of substrate materials available out there, but I suggest you go with gravel as it is much easier to maintain.

For a regular 10-gallon aquarium, 10 to 15 pounds of gravel substrate should be more than enough. 

4. Light

Lighting is undoubtedly an essential part of your fish tank’s aesthetic appeal. Without lights, it would be difficult to establish a natural cycle in fish tanks.

Supplemental aquarium lighting will also allow you to keep a check on all the activity going inside your tank, even when it is dark.

Besides, if you want to keep live plants in the aquarium, the lighting has to be adequately intense. Plants cannot grow without light.

Since you are just starting, basic LED lights would come in handy. 

5. Decor

Many are of the view that fish tank decor accessories are not a necessity. While your fish can survive with no aquarium decor, your fish tank will not seem pleasing to the eye.

By adding a few aquarium decorations, you will create a better environment for your pets to live in.

I would advise that you get some simple decorative accessories for your fish tank to leave an excellent first impression on your visitors. 

6. Plants

Live plants are indispensable for creating a healthy environment within your fish tank. You must note that live plants require a lot of care.

Being a newbie, add only those plants which you can maintain with ease and convenience. 

Step-4: Set Up The Fish Tank

After you have got hold of all the necessary equipment, you can begin setting up the fish tank. Here, I have explained the entire process in detail.

But before reading my description, you can watch this video.

1. Remove Tank/Aquarium From The Box

Begin by unpacking the aquarium and removing it from the box.

After successfully unboxing the fish tank, place it on an even and safe surface where it will not be prone to damage.

Build a tank stand if necessary and use a damp cloth to clean the insides of the aquarium to get rid of dust particles.

If you have an aquarium background poster, access the back of your fish tank and add it. 

2. Put The Tank/Aquarium In Position

After you have cleaned the aquarium and added a background poster, choose a good spot and put your tank in position.

Given that there is no water in your tank, positioning it will be a piece of cake. Avoid placing your tank near windows, air conditioning units, and heaters.

Direct contact with sunlight and sudden temperature changes could be detrimental to the overall health of your fish. 

3. Rinse The Substrate Matters & Decors

Before placing the substrate matters and decors into your tank, rinse them thoroughly to eliminate dust and paint.

You can make use of hot water for rinsing the substrate matters. Make sure that the water you use is free from chemicals.

4. Set All The Items

Now, you must set all the items in their respective places. Start by filling your aquarium with materials that have to be placed in the bottom of the tank.

For installing the heater, filtration system, and lighting components, refer to your manufacturer’s instruction manual to get the best possible details. 

5. Fill The Tank With Water

Slowly fill your tank with potable water and ensure it is void of chlorine and other harmful compounds.

Keep a small plate in the bottom portion of your aquarium while pouring water to reduce cloudiness that may arise from substrate matters. 

6. Turn On Filter & Heater

At this point, you should turn on the filter, heater, and all the other electrical components.

Do not implement this step beforehand, as doing so can cause your aquarium’s electrical equipment to malfunction.

You can also turn on the lights, but that is totally up to you. 

7. Add-In Treatments

Before adding any treatment to your fish tank, thoroughly go through all the product instructions to avoid any mishaps at the last minute.

Reading the instructions in advance will allow you to add the right dosage of treatments to your aquarium.

Do not forget to use a water conditioner to neutralize harmful substances like chlorine. 

Step-5: Cycle Your Fish Tank

After implementing all the steps mentioned above, you must prepare to cycle your fish tank.

Biological waste resulting from dead plant matters, and leftover food leads to ammonia, which could be fatal to your fish.

But you can eliminate the presence of ammonia and promote beneficial bacteria by cycling your fish tank.

Establishing an efficient nitrogen cycle is vital for creating a natural biological filter so that your aquarium becomes ready for housing pet fish. 

Fishless Cycling

This process is ideal for beginners, although it is somewhat time-consuming. Adding a bit of fish food into the water is the best way to trigger the tank cycle.

You can employ a readily available test kit to analyze the presence of ammonia and nitrites in the water. The cycling process may take up to 3 to 4 weeks.

However, you should be patient until a healthy environment is developed and all the harmful compounds are exhausted. 

Cycling With Fish

Cycling with fish is a traditional method to deplete ammonia and bring about beneficial bacteria colonies in a natural way.

In this process, fishkeepers add a couple of hardy fish to a newly built aquarium for cycling purposes.

Although this process works quite effectively, it puts immense stress on fish and can even prove lethal for your newly bought pets.

Newbies should avoid this process as it may not be feasible for them.

Cycling With Plants

Including live aquarium plants in your new fish tank is another way to accelerate the cycling process.

The plants will effectively consume the nitrates and ammonia and transform them into fresh leaves.

Using live plants for cycling your tank is indeed a good idea.

However, I would advise beginner fishkeepers to resort to the fishless cycling method, which has already been explained above. 

Tips: When You Know Your Aquarium is Cycled

You will have to perform regular water tests to keep a check on the presence of toxic compounds like nitrite and ammonia in your aquarium. 

Frequent water tests will allow you to determine whether the cycling process has been completed or not. 

Once your fish tank is fully cycled, the nitrite and ammonia levels will be reduced effectively to zero. 

After the nitrate levels dip below 40 parts per million (ppm), you can safely add fish to the tank. 

Step-6: Add Fish

The last and final step (and obviously the most desired one)- you are going to add fish to your aquarium!

Congratulations! Now, you are a fishkeeper, officially!

But please do not hurry. Add fish slowly- three for the first week is good. Then gradually increase the number. 

Suitable Fish For Beginners

There are lots of species you can keep in your freshwater aquarium. Here I have selected five- will be perfect for the first-timers.

1. Neon Tetra

Neon Tetra Start a fish tank

Neon Tetra is a beautiful freshwater fish that is native to South America. These fish do not have an aggressive nature, and they can quickly get along with other types of fish. The vibrant colors of Neon Tetra make it a favorite among fishkeepers.

2. Zebra Danio

Zebra Danio Start a fish tank

Zebra Danio is found in the regions of South Asia, and it boasts a highly distinctive zebra-like pattern. These fish can withstand a wide range of water temperatures, and they are pretty easy to care for.

3. Platy

Platy Start a fish tank

Available in numerous colors, Platy is native to Southern Mexico and Central America. These small-sized freshwater fish have short fins. Owing to its friendly nature, Platy is perfect for community fish tanks. 

4. Swordtail

Swordtail Start a fish tank

Swordtail is one of the most sought-after freshwater fish. Its amicable nature and sword-like tail are some of its unique features. Foods like brine shrimp and tubifex bloodworms can satisfy the omnivorous cravings of these Swordtails.

5. Corydoras

Corydoras Start a fish tank

Popularly known as Cory Catfish, Corydoras are the most preferred choice of beginner aquarium enthusiasts worldwide. These fish are incredibly efficient at cleaning fish tanks, and they can thrive in varied water conditions. 

Tips: Maintain Low Fish Density

Once you are done setting up your tank, you would be excited to fill it up with various fish. 

However, you should initially aim for a low fish density so that the water quality is maintained.

When I set up my first 10-gallon fish tank, I made a big mistake of adding up to 13 fish of different sizes. Within a week, the water began to turn cloudy, and most of my pet fish sadly died despite changing the water. 

I would suggest you stick to the widely known thumb rule of 1-inch of fish per gallon. Moreover, always add healthy fish and avoid overcrowding your tank in the beginning. 

Taking Care Of Your New Aquatic Environment

 Here are some dos and don’ts that will help you take good care of your new aquatic environment. 

 Make a Checklist For Routine Tasks

Since maintaining an aquarium can be a little difficult for newbies, I would recommend you create a checklist for critical routine tasks.

The list should cover jobs like temperature check, mood observation, etc. If the water in your tank turns yellowish and smells foul, it is about time you perform a water change.

You must change up to 25% of water and get a new filter cartridge once or twice a month.

Before performing a water change, you should treat the water with a good quality de-chlorinator and ensure that its temperature is okay to avoid harming fish. 

 Do Not Overfeed

Feeding your fish at frequent intervals can be fun. However, you should never overfeed.

It is because overfeeding can degrade water quality and create stressful conditions for your lovely pets, even leading to death in some cases.

Cloudy water and accumulation of excessive waste are signs your fish is being overfed within the tank. 

Quarantine New Fish Before Adding

Keeping your aquarium fish healthy is a matter of high importance.

Although you are a newbie fishkeeper, you must act smartly and quarantine new fish before introducing them to your newly set-up fish tank.

So, leave your new fish in the quarantine tank for at least 14 to 21 days and change the water regularly.

Once the quarantine period is over and the fish appears to be healthy, you can add them to your main fish tank.


Fishkeeping has turned into a world-famous hobby. It can prove to be a great stress buster for people looking to get closer to marine life from the comfort of their homes.

Now that I have familiarized you with all the crucial steps, setting up a fish tank should not be difficult.

So, make sure you adhere to the points mentioned earlier to have the best time with your new pet fish.

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